the rim of that terrible battlefield. There the giant
stopped, and set down the man who had been rid-
ing on his shoulders; and from that point the man
alone, a gray-caped figure bearing a bright Sword
in hand, walked on alone into the field of doom and
Rostov, puzzled, tried to make out where the
man-was he wearing a mask?-was headed. Then
the General realized that there was still one other
human figure standing on the battlefield–way out
there, at its center.
It was the Silver Queen, leaning on the blade that
she was too immobilized to cast down. When
Rostov and his soldiers saw the Emperor take it
from her hands, and sheath it, they could feel how a
change for the better, came instantly over the
The General turned to his troops, shouting:
“They’re not all dead out there! Some of the Dark
King’s hellions are starting to wake up already!
What’re you waiting for, get out there and disarm
them while you can!”
When the party of the surviving gods in their
retreat had climbed above the snow level of the
Ludus Mountains, the blind man they carried with
them began to curse and rail at them again. He
ranted as if they were still under his command; and
Vulcan, listening, began to be sorry that he had
picked the man up and brought him along.
The Smith still had other company, present inter-
mittently. Gray-bearded Zeus, proud Apollo, Aph-
rodite, Hades. They and some others came and
went. Hades was, as always, never far from his true
domain, the Earth. Diana had walked with them for
a while, but had dropped out of the group early,
saying only that she heard another kind of call.
Vilkata, the man they had brought with them,
was shivering and in rags. The golden circlet had
fallen from his head days ago, and his power to
command demons had gone with it. He kept
groaning, whining that he’d lost his Sword. He was
raving now, demanding that food and slaves and
wine be brought to him.
Why did I bring him with me? Vulcan pondered
once again. The Smith himself had regained some
of his strength since the servants of Ardneh,
perceiving him as no longer violent and dangerous,
had loosed his bonds and let him go. But he was
still far from what he once had been, and some-
times he feared that he was dying.
Apollo had told them all several times in the
course of the retreat that they were all dying now,
or would be soon, himself included. The world had
changed again, Apollo said.
The man they carried with them at least gave
them all some connection to humanity. Though
Vulcan still did not want to admit they needed that.
He said now to the man perched on his shoulder,
as if talking to some half-intelligent pet: “We might
find some food for you somewhere. But there is no
wine-none that you can drink-and certainly no
“But I have you as my slaves,” the man rasped
back. Today his proud voice was weakening rap-
idly. “And you are gods, and goddesses. Therefore
all the Earth is mine.”
From behind, Apollo asked: “You cannot feel it,
“Feel what?” He who had been the Dark King
turned his blind face back and forth. In a more lucid
voice he demanded: “Where are we?” Then, a
moment later, again: “Feel what?”
Apollo said: “That the humans whose dreams
created us, and gave us power, are now dreaming
differently? That our power, and our lives as well,
have been draining from us, ever since we gave you
Swords to use?”
Among the gods there were still some who could
persuade themselves to argue with this viewpoint.
“It’s all part of the Game-”
“The Game is over now.”
“Over? But who won?”
That one wasn’t answered.
“In the mountains, in the upper air, we’ll start to
feel strong again.”
They trudged on, climbed on. The capability of
swift effortless flight had once been theirs. Vulcan
thought that none of them were starting to feel
stronger. In fact the thin air was beginning to hurt
He would not have it, would not allow it to be so.
Bravely he cried out to Apollo: “You still say that
we are their creations? Bah! Then who created
Apollo did not reply.
Occasional volcanic rumbles now shook the
Earth beneath their feet; here and there subterra-
nean warmth created bare steaming spots of rock
amid the snow.
Their flight, their climb, was becoming slower
and slower. But it went on. Now where was Aphro-
dite? Vulcan looked around for her. It was not as if
she had departed, in the old, easy way, for some-
where else, he thought; she was simply and truly
He had not seen Hades for a long time, either.
Vilkata sensed something. “Where are you all
going?” the man shouted, or tried to shout. “I com-
mand you not to disappear. Turn round instead,
take me back down to the world of humanity. I’m
going to freeze to death up here!”
Vulcan had no wish to put up with the man’s
noise any longer, or with his weight that seemed to
grow and grow; and the god cast the blind, mewing
man aside, down a cliff into frozen oblivion, and
The Smith summoned up his determination, try-
ing now to regain the purpose with which he had
begun this climb, long days ago. He mused aloud:
“It was near here-near here somewhere-that I
built my forge, to make the Swords. I piled up logs,
earth-wood, and lit them from the volcanic fires
below. If only I could find my forge again-”
Presently he realized that he was now alone, the
man having gone down a cliff somewhere, the last
of his divine companions having vanished, as if
evaporated upon the wind. The last wrangling
voice of them had been chilled down to silence.
But not quite the last.
“Then who created THEM?” the Smith bellowed,
hurling forth the question like a challenge to the
universe, at the top of his aching, newly perishable
He looked ahead.
There was something, or someone, lying in wait
for him, beyond that last convoluted corner of black
rock. Some new power, or ancient one, come to
claim the world? Or only the wind?
He was afraid to look.
The whole world was cold now. The Smith could
feel the awful cold turning against him, feel it as
easily and painfully as the weakest human might.
He wanted to look around the corner of the rock,
but he could not. He was afraid. Just in front of him,
volcanic heat and gas belched up, turning snow and
ice into black slush in a moment.
Vulcan lurched forward, seeking warmth. He fell
on his hands and knees. Dying, in what seemed to
him the first cold morning of the world, he groped